People walk past debris in a Gatineau, Que. neighbourhood on Saturday, September 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Ottawa area residents take stock of tornado rubble as Ford tours the ruins

A tornado on Friday afternoon tore roofs off of homes, overturned cars and felled power lines in the Ottawa community of Dunrobin and in Gatineau, Que.

Word of Friday’s tornado reached Laurel Wingrove and Alex Carlson at a Toronto wedding, and by Sunday morning they completed the grim pilgrimage back to the apartment they’ve called home for four months.

Almost nothing was waiting for them.

The roof was sheared off, the second storey of the edifice was open to the sky. Shredded and twisted shards of wood and metal filled the yard, where two crushed cars were parked. A large trash dumpster was flipped on its side.

“It could have been worse if we were here. Our bedroom’s upstairs,” said Carlson, 24.

“It’s gone,” added Wingrove, 25.

Their rural Ottawa neighbourhood of Dunrobin was one of the worst hit areas as twin tornadoes tore through Ottawa and across the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Que., on Friday. On the Ottawa side, 51 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, and this neighbourhood saw the “brunt of the damage,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

The national weather agency said a powerful twister — with winds that reached 265 kilometres per hour — ripped through Dunrobin, about 35 kilometres west of the downtown area, before moving on to Gatineau.

Environment Canada said that at almost the same time a second, slightly less powerful, twister touched down in the south Ottawa neighbourhood of Arlington Woods.

The tornadoes caused massive damage, thrashing homes, tossing vehicles, snapping huge trees and injuring several people, at least two of whom were admitted to hospital in critical condition.

Throughout the Canadian capital region, shaken residents began returning to some of the hardest hit areas, taking stock of what was lost and trying to figure out what remained. For those facing uninhabitable destruction, police, firefighters and other emergency workers were helping them recover important documents, including identification.

For Wingrove and Carlson, some relief came quickly. A volunteer firefighter emerged with a set of file folders. Their passports were inside. Several minutes later, a smiling firefighter handed Carlson a silver laptop computer — the one that had valuable information about two business ventures.

“The community is going to come together. And everyone’s making sure we’re OK,” said Carlson, who is also a volunteer firefighter. On Sunday, he was on crutches and wearing a cast on his left ankle — a result of one-month-old injury that sidelined him from the recovery efforts.

Related: Environment Canada confirms Ottawa area hit by two tornadoes Friday

Related: Tens of thousands without power following tornado in Ottawa region

Ontario Premier Doug Ford toured Dunrobin on Sunday and pledged the province’s full support to Ottawa residents recovering from Friday’s tornadoes as he met with some of those hardest hit. Ford made the promise after meeting more local residents, returning to homes that the tornadoes had in some cases levelled, in the pastoral Dunrobin area littered with snapped power lines and scattered branches.

“We can replace the infrastructure, and we will. We will spare no resources in the province,” Ford said, noting it was a blessing that nobody was killed.

Meeting displaced residents at a local high school, Ford offered his sympathies and reassurances.

“We’re putting the resources in, we are going to get it done,” he told a sobbing woman seeking refuge at the school. “It’s devastating.”

“It is,” she replied.

The premier was accompanied by Watson as he toured houses ravaged by the twister before it jumped the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Que.

“A lot of us have never seen anything like it,” he said of the destruction. “It’s shocking.”

Ford later visited a public park in the Barrhaven area in Ottawa’s south end, where volunteers had set up plastic tables in a field to feed 1,000 people their Sunday dinners. Loudspeakers blasted classic rock music, while candles lit the public bathrooms of the adjacent community centre.

“We’ll get everyone back on their feet,” Ford told an afternoon news conference.

Hydro crews — including extra workers from across Ontario — were working around the clock to untangle and repair fallen power lines and restore electricity to the region.

Friday’s tornadoes and thunderstorms in eastern Ontario caused power outages to approximately 400,000 customers, Hydro One said Sunday night.

The utility said about 36,000 customers remained without power on Sunday night, while Hydro Quebec reported approximately 4,000 customers in the Outaouais region, which encompasses Gatineau, were blacked out.

“Throughout the weekend, our crews have worked tirelessly to get the lights back and we believe the majority of customers will have their power back by tonight,” Hydro One CEO Greg Kiraly said in a release.

Bryce Conrad, the president of Hydro Ottawa, said some areas would not have power on Monday or this week. He has compared the damage to the city’s power grid as being on the magnitude of the debilitating ice storm of 1998. A key power station was knocked out by the tornadoes, and Conrad said it looked like it was bombed.

The lack of power meant a reduced work day for many on Monday with two local school boards announcing closures for the day. City officials, including the police chief, urged people to work at home or take the day off.

With 400 traffic lights still dark, they were trying to avoid rush hour chaos.

The Treasury Board and Statistics Canada also posted tweets Sunday telling their employees in Ottawa and Gatineau to stay home Monday, and if possible, work from there.

The Ontario government announced Saturday that it was activating the province’s Disaster Recovery Assistance program in affected areas, while the Quebec government announced it would give the Red Cross $1 million to help with relief efforts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday that he’d spoken with the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau to discuss “how the community is recovering from the damages.”

Trudeau, who was in Montreal to meet with the prime minister of Spain, also said he offered federal help to those in need.

Ford said it was too soon to put a dollar figure on the damage. He praised the non-partisan co-operation of the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

“It’s amazing how everyone comes together. Forget the political stripes, they’re out the window. We’re a community, we’re team Ontario, and we work together.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

Province announces $100-million grant funding for Northwest communities

The Northern Capital and Planning Grant will go to four regional districts and 22 municipalities

LNG Canada sponsors driver’s license training in Terrace, Kitimat

The $80,000 contribution is part of the company’s commitment to hire locally

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project searches for partners

TransCanada is renewing permits for its natural gas pipeline project to North Coast.

Coastal GasLink stops work to investigate archaeological find

OGC archaeologists are en route to the Houston-area site where Unist’ot’en report finding stone tools

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

‘Bullet missed me by an inch’: Man recounts friend’s killing at Kamloops hotel

Penticton man witnessed Summerland resident Rex Gill’s murder in Kamloops

B.C. BUDGET: Income assistance raise still leaves many below poverty line

$50 per month increase included in funding for poverty and homelessness reduction

B.C. BUDGET: Indigenous communities promised billions from gambling

Extended family caregiver pay up 75 per cent to keep kids with relatives

B.C. BUDGET: New benefit increases family tax credits up to 96 per cent

BC Child Opportunity Benefit part of province’s efforts to reduce child poverty

B.C. BUDGET: Carbon tax boosts low-income credits, electric vehicle subsidies

Homeowners can get up to $14,000 for heating, insulation upgrades

B.C. man survives heart attack thanks to Facebook

A Princeton man suffered a heart attack while at an isolated property with no cell service

B.C. man sues Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party over trademark

Satinder Dhillon filed application for trademark same day Maxime Bernier announced the new party

New trial ordered over banning whales, dolphins at Vancouver aquarium

Park board’s appeal reverses previous decision that found it had no right to implement a ban

Most Read